Layers are key

If you had asked me two years ago if I’d get up at the crack of dawn and go for a run before the sun was fully up, I’d have said, “Pffft, you’re crazy.” And if you’d told me that I’d enjoy running in the semi-darkness and bone-chilling cold, I’d have said, “Get the straightjacket and a vial of lithium for this person.”

But that whole getting up early and running in the cold semi-darkness is exactly what happened yesterday. And I LOVED it. Okay, not the getting up early part, but I made the best of the situation.

Let me back up a bit. Grace had a school project yesterday, so since it was bulky, I drove both girls to their schools. And since I was going to be out anyway, I decided to gear up for a run and head to the mountains after the girls were deposited at their institutions of learning.

Okay, I did not go to the actual Blue Ridge Mountains for actual running on actual mountain trails and inevitably falling down and getting hurt running; instead, I went nearby, to Monticello. I’ve told you about the Monticello trail before and a section of it was part of the course in the race Grace and I ran last month. End to end, the trail is just shy of two miles and is, at most, a 5% incline, which makes for a nice walk or run. Depending on one’s fitness, the slope is either challenging or not.

It was in the upper 30s Fahrenheit (just above 0 Celsius) when I got to the trailhead. The sun wasn’t fully up yet, so that side of the mountain was still in shadows. There was a brisk wind whipping around me as I got out of the car.

What do I wear to run when it’s cold out? Through plenty of trial and error, I’ve finally hit on the following:

I have to  be careful about not wearing too many layers, because I will heat up and get warm and, even on the coldest days, I sweat a lot.

So how was my run? In a word, FANFREAKINGTABULOUS. When I’ve done it in the past — and it has been about a year since I last ran up there — the uphill part has been a major struggle and I hated it pretty much every step of the way. Yesterday? It was great. I wasn’t setting land speed records, but for me, I was hauling ample ass. Downhill was even better. And overall, I ran 2-3 minutes faster per mile than I did the last time I did that run. I was smiling the whole time and even more so afterward as I headed home, full of the rosy afterglow of a great run.

In fact, my running speeds have increased significantly since I had knee surgery and went through rehab. Part of this is because my knee is fixed, part of it is because I worked hard to rehab and get stronger, and part of it is that I am simply a better runner than I was six or nine or 12 months ago.

That’s not to say that I’m fast, because I’m not. Someone I know posted on Facebook last week that she was looking for someone to do 10-12 miles with her on Saturday and that she’d be going at a “slow but steady 9:15 pace.” I had to laugh because a 9-minute mile for me is still a dream. These days, I can run a consistent 12 minute (or just below) pace for up to five miles; beyond that, I start to slow down. But, I’m making progress and I know I’ll get faster.

All this is to say that you can run (or walk) in the cold if you layer properly. And, for those of you bemoaning your slow pace, I understand and I can assure you that you will improve.

On a related running note, a couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I was planning to attempt a route I’d last tried over a year ago. I did it (plus another quarter mile) last Friday — a day that was so bitterly cold and windy that I questioned my sanity. (That is, until I was passed by a guy who was running while wearing shorts, no socks, and NO SHOES. Yep, dude was running barefoot and risking both a nasty cut and frostbite. THAT is deranged.) Anyway, I did the run and felt great, although there was one section that was hardhardhard. At the end, however, I was tired, but not limping and whimpering the way I was the last time I did that route.

Here’s the elevation profile for the route I ran:

See that one highlighted uphill stretch? Imagine that I was mentally bitching and moaning and kvetching and cursing during that part. Verily, I say to ye, that shit was HARD. But I did it and I felt triumphant as I crested the hill and started downward. Jen über alles! And knowing that I’ve done that and didn’t have close encounter with the white light, I know that I can do a lot of things that might seem impossible.



Actually, that should say “It’s a shame for any HUMAN…” because I’m sure there are also plenty of men who don’t know what their bodies are capable of including changing diapers, scrubbing toilets, and emptying dishwashers.

To conclude today’s sermon, I’d like to encourage everyone to layer up (or strip down, if you’re in the southern hemisphere) and get outside. In most cases, Mother Nature won’t kill you but she might hurt you a little and you’ll get some fresh air and exercise.


Photo credit: Yahoo Images.
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17 Responses to Layers are key

  1. Jenn3128 says:

    I’m having a love affair with my SmartWool socks. Honest to god love affair. But, back to the point…

    You are an inspiration to me, I have zero motivation to get out there and move my body, but reading about you doing it, in the freezing cold makes me want to get out there.

    Any chance you can do that post about undergarments to contain the twins earlier than next month??? I have yet to find anything (besides wearing 2 sports bras, ugh).

  2. Patience says:

    That’s a great trail, and definitely fun to do on weekday mornings when only serious people are on it. I sometimes run it on weekend afternoons, and the trail is clogged with slow-walking people and strollers and dogs, etc.

  3. Michele P says:

    Woot! There is NOTHING better than a great run! I’m so ridiculously happy that you’re so into running.

    I’ve been alternating running with spin classes or a bike workout, which I’m totally loving. Interesting experience when I thought, hmm, maybe I should mix things up a bit and do some plyometrics. So hubs and I got up on Sunday morning and did the hour-long p90x plyo workout. Holy GOD! I could hardly walk on Monday OR Tuesday. My run on Weds morning was the first time I didn’t flinch with each step.

    Keep up the amazing work!

  4. Cassi Renee says:

    I am loving my Smartwool socks too –but mostly for when I’m inside the house. We keep our heat low, and my tootsies get VERY cold. Last year I developed Reynaud’s in my toes!

    I am happy that you’re feeling so strong! Today the temps started at 10 degrees and have fallen now, in mid-afternoon, to 5 degrees. Not outside weather, unless you come up with a way to cover up all the skin on your face.

  5. bdaiss says:

    I’m sorry but….BWAHAHAHAHA! My dear, you live a very sweet life. If only I could define “wake up early for a run” as taking place after my kids went off to school. Also – no matter how many layers I may own, I’m not running outside when the thermometer (at 7:30 am) says -8 and the windchill puts it at -20. And it’s pitch black (with street lights 2 miles distant – I’m not sure why they haven’t put those in on the trail yet. It’d be so convenient for me!)

    Care to join me for a 5 am treadmill blast instead? : )

  6. We are at the end of a 2 month stretch without rain and with temperatures in the high 60′s. I have been getting my butt handed to me my a virus but still wanted to take advantage of the weather so I bundled up and took my hot beverage outside and did some pruning and light yard work but mostly sat in the sun.

    Today the rain is here and I am so glad I got that sun.

  7. Way to go! Get down with your bad self!

  8. This is a great post. Now I can’t complain because I love to run and I live in Florida. Right now it’s perfect running temperatures. But that said, I lived in Korea for 8 years and it’s cold and dark there in the winters. Still, I ran. Bleary eyed and shivering.

  9. Kim Kasch says:

    Oh Jen . . . now I HAVE GOT TO send you a late Christmas present. I have the perfect idea and I swear it is going to help you on your runs. You may not believe it because I didn’t when my sister told me that it would make a difference but it DOES. And, it’s all about socks.

    So, this weekend I’m going on a shopping spree for thee. So, look in your mailbox next week :)

  10. Jenny says:

    Jen uber alles reminds me of something. When I was a kid one of my favorite hymns started out Glorious things of Thee are spoken, Zion City of our God… (Our hymnal didn’t title hymns, just number them. I am such a snob.) I still sing or hum it from time to time. Why did no one tell me that the tune is the same as Deutschland Uber Alles??? I work in a Jewish institution and received quite a tongue lashing from an associate the first time I did it.
    I do seem to go off on a tangent when I read your posts!

  11. Nic says:

    I went out for a cold run (which, by your standards, isn’t that cold) – it was around freezing probably slightly below – the other day and it was not fun. That said, I think after reading this that I wasn’t properly equipped. I had a long-sleeve tech top and jacket on, 3/4 length tech trousers (I don’t own full length but I’m going to have to get some) and silly little pointless socks. I did put gloves on, but no hat.

    I was seriously uncomfortable during the 5k and almost gave up, which I never do. Actually the coldest part of was my thighs, which chimes with what you said. If I go out in freezing temps again I may consider two pairs of trousers. But after this latest experience I pretty much wrote off running if the temperature is down to freezing.

  12. The right gear can make any weather tolerable–you’re right! I’m looking forward to the batch of snow tonight so I can ski on it tomorrow!

  13. I was passed by a guy who was running while wearing shorts, no socks, and NO SHOES.
    Holy Toledo, if you were out here instead of back there (we used to live in VA) I would totally say you’d just seen my 19yo son. He was jogging to class last week barefoot IN THE SNOW. He only wears boots if he can’t do that. (He did say he wore boots to go sledding…) He’s always had the common sense of a duck.

    Hooray for progress! I’m proud of you! And you are giving me hope that I will someday run a 5K again.

  14. Aunt Snow says:

    I can’t run, because I have bad knees, but I walk, and even though it’s not snowing here, it’s been chilly lately – I can see my breath in the air, which is rare for Southern California. Because I’m walking and don’t need to worry about aerodynamics, I wear what I rolled out of bed in and threw on – my layering technique lately has been to pull a pair of loose pants on OVER my pajama pants, knot a scarf around my neck, and go.

    My walk has a pretty significant elevation profile, like yours, but I don’t exactly know the details. Now that I have an altitude app for my phone, I could probably plot it – how did you do that?

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